Barcelona have been charged by a Spanish court with committing tax fraud over the signing of Brazil forward Neymar last year in the latest twist to a saga that has already claimed the scalp of one club president.
Neymar’s high-profile move to the Catalan capital from Santos in the close season was initially shrouded in mystery and it was unclear what exactly was paid to whom and when.
After president Sandro Rosell stepped down last month following an allegation of misappropriation of funds made by a club member, Barca admitted Neymar had cost e86.2 million (£71m), including payments to the player and his family, and not e57.1m (£47m) as they originally said.
“Judge Pablo Ruz has charged FC Barcelona with an infringement against the tax authority relating to the purchase of the Brazilian player (Neymar),” a spokesman for the Madrid court hearing the case said yesterday.
The judge had requested Barca’s tax records relating to the Neymar deal and had asked the tax authority to calculate the scale of the alleged fraud.
Barca denied wrongdoing after local media reported on Wednesday that Spain’s public prosecutor had asked the judge to lay charges. “The club’s actions have, at all times, regarding that operation [to sign Neymar] and in line with the available information, been fully compliant with existing law,” Barca said in a statement.
The Spanish champions added they would be sending legal representatives to court “in the coming days” to defend their rights and interests.
“At the same time [Barca] states its complete availability to collaborate with the justice authorities in this process, as it has been doing from the first moment, or in any other that might require its intervention.”
Barca’s institutional problems do not appear to be affecting their results on the pitch and they secured a 2-0 win away to Barclays Premier League side Manchester City in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16, first leg.m They are also joint top of La Liga with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid with 14 games left and through to the final of the King’s Cup to face Real.
“We are completely out of it,” midfielder Sergio Busquets said at a regular post-training news conference yesterday afternoon. “We hear things but really we have no idea,” added the Spain international. “The club has put forward its side of the story and we support it. Our job is to play matches.”
Neymar himself, who turned 22 this month, has defended his father over the transfer deal, arguing he had the right to profit from it and had done nothing wrong. The Brazilian superstar took to social media before the judge’s decision to vent about the situation his family finds itself in. “I’m tired of this crap. I’m a fan of my father and I’ll always be grateful for having taken me to where I am today,” Neymar wrote on his official Instagram page, “and if he made millions over that, what’s the problem? It worked, the money was not expected to just fall from the sky.”
Neymar recently returned from a month-long injury lay-off and came on in the second half of the City game when he set up Dani Alves to score Barca’s second goal.
After he quit as president, Rosell was replaced by his deputy Josep Bartomeu, who was closely involved in the protracted transfer negotiations.
The court spokesman said Judge Ruz had also accepted a complaint by a Spanish non-governmental organisation that fights corruption called “Clean Hands”. The complaint accuses Rosell, Bartomeu and another Barca vice president, Javier Faus, as well as Neymar’s father, of misappropriation of funds and document fraud.
Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday the Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Real Madrid will be played on Wednesday, 16 April at the Mestalla stadium. It was also decided following a meeting between representatives of the two clubs and the RFEF in Madrid on Thursday that the final will kick off at 2130 local time.
Valencia’s Mestalla stadium was also the venue for the last ‘Clasico’ final showdown between Barca and Real in 2011, when the latter won 1-0 after extra-time thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo header.
Last year’s final was at Real’s Bernabeu stadium, where Real were beaten 2-1 after extra-time by arch-rivals Atletico Madrid.
Barca have won the cup a record 26 times, while Real have lifted the trophy 18 times.